Before Covid, going for a cycle meant a pleasant afternoon of exercise, interrupted only by my own thoughts. Now though (perhaps due to the upset that the crisis has caused), I’m often interrupted by the thoughts of others. Middle aged white men, that is.
I’m not blameless in these scenarios – I’ve made a few mistakes which deserved to be called out. Especially at the beginning of lockdown, when I got on my bike for the first time in a long while. That doesn’t justify my errors, but equally, breaking social distancing rules so that
“YOU DIDN’T EVEN LOOK!”
can be shouted in my ear wasn’t justified, either.
I know this might seem like a petty thing to pick up on – you may even be thinking, why not just suck it up? I was in the wrong, after all. Maybe it’s because, being female, I know that the quick getaway can be used by these men for more unsavoury purposes than just calling out bad cycling.
So no, my issue isn’t with being ‘told off’. Of course it’s useful to know when I’ve done something wrong. It’s just that I’m yet to meet a Mamil (Middle aged man in lycra) who hasn’t taken advantage of the shout and run (/pedal furiously) technique when volunteering some advice.
This cowardly method of opinion sharing also doesn’t take into account the importance of considering both perspectives in incidents like this. Like, for example, in the case of the Mamil who shouted “YOU DIDN’T EVEN LOOK!” – he didn’t see me looking both ways because I did so between parked cars.
Now, I know that coming out into the road between parked cars was not a good idea. At the time, though, all I was considering was the fact that it was a quiet road, and from my vantage point I would’ve been able to see or hear if a car had been approaching. The swift and quiet way in which a cyclist can travel just wasn’t on my mind, and that is a mistake which I have now learned from.
But just because I’ve learned something from the experience, doesn’t mean that the way it played out was OK.
And I hadn’t made the dangerous mistake that shouting might have been justified by, anyway. He arrived at my side a good number of seconds after I’d pulled out into the road, indicating that at his speed, he had in fact been a fair way down the road when he saw me exit onto it.
Of course, though, I understand that we can’t exactly slow down to a stop and have a discussion about every error we see others make. I’d just like things to be done with respect, and an understanding that the whole context of any given situation is not at our disposal.
Like, for example, when I was told “You’re on the wrong side” by a cyclist on a different day. There was no obligation on this path to stay to any particular side, but I do always try to follow the unspoken rule to keep to the left. (In this instance, I was on the right-hand side in order to keep 2 metres away from people sitting on a bench alongside the path).
In any case, rather than shouting me into compliance, she chose to calmly inform me of what she thought I should’ve done. And I feel like she had more reason to be angry than the previous cyclist, since we almost had a head-on crash as we both turned round a blind bend.
Thankfully there was no collision, since both of us had significantly reduced our speed in anticipation of something like that happening. And whilst I was still miffed at my lack of a right to reply, I wasn’t scared into submission.
I’m still not sure why it is that middle aged white men in lycra (and it is almost always them) feel the need to frighten me into cycling better. Maybe they’re angrier than usual because of the emotional toll that Covid takes on us. Maybe there’s some kind of ingrained sense of power over women that makes them feel entitled to say whatever they like. Whatever the reason is, I think we could all benefit from being kinder to each other.